Tejaswin Shankar wants to soak in the human side of Decathlon
"Main athletics events are like T20, Decathlon is like Test cricket," Tejaswin Shankar, the existing high jump national record holder who has qualified in Decathlon for the Asian Games, tries to explain.
Eighteen athletes drenched in sweat after two grueling days and 10 events stood together smiling at the camera, embodying the very spirit of sports- unity.
Led by Tejaswin Shankar, all the decathletes posed for a group picture to create one of the legendary moments of Indian athletics at the end of the Inter-state Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar.
It was not long back when Tejaswin was participating in high jump at America's premier college competition in the NCAA Division 1, before switching to Decathlon. It is in this new event that he will be representing India in the upcoming Asian Athletics Championships and the Asian Games.
"One of the major reasons for me to switch (from High Jump) was the beauty and camaraderie in the combined events like Decathlon and Heptathlon. It is a niche event that keeps on going side by side while the main events attract the audience," Tejaswin told The Bridge.
The Accidental Decathlete
Tejaswin Shankar holds the national record in High Jump. He won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games 2022. When the news of Tejaswin switching to Decathlon came out, a lot of questions were asked. Why would such an established athlete in one event try such a novel challenge?
"Since I arrived at Kansas State, I was jumping consistently above 2.25m and broke the national record also. But the mark of 2.30m was eluding me continuously, and it got on my nerves. I wanted to achieve it at any cost," said Tejaswin.
Chasing the 2.30m mark in the high jump, Tejaswin and his coaches decided to give other events a chance to improve his high jump.
"I started with 4*400 realy. Then decided to take part in events such as 400m to improve my stride. While I was doing all this, I decided to try long jump," Tejaswin explained.
While the intention of doing other events might have originally been to improve his primary discipline, Tejaswin found joy in the competitiveness and toughness of the combined events.
"The progression was very natural for me. Once I was doing three-four events together, I decided to try a pentathlon and then a heptathlon. The results of these events pushed me further to move to the Decathlon," Tejaswin said.
"I will call myself an accidental decathlete. While I wanted to improve my high jump, I found myself really connected to Decathlon. It showed me that there is a lot more to the sport apart from winning a medal," said Tejaswin with a smile.
The Human Side of Decathlon
Tejaswin always found joy in sports but it was as if a new avenue opened up when he found the camaraderie shared during the Decathlon and the amount of grit and endurance it demands.
"Decathlon is this two-day spectacle which teaches you so much about life. While the other athletics events offer the entertainment of T20 cricket, Decathlon remains the traditional Test cricket where the grind never stops till it is over," said Tejaswin.
As indeed was on full display in the recently concluded Inter-State Athletics Championships, where multiple decathletes achieved their personal bests while battling tough weather conditions.
"The whole atmosphere is different in the combined events as it goes side by side of the main events and everyone is busy calculating their scores. It is analytical as well as enduring," said Tejaswin.
Battling tough conditions, Tejaswin qualifies for Asian Games
Participating in his third Decathlon, Tejaswin started on a wrong note with his nose bleeding before even the first event started.
"I was devasted, to be honest. Before even I could start, I had a setback and it put me down for a bit," he related.
The Day 1 events in Decathlon (100m dash, Shot Put, Long Jump, Shot Put, 400m dash) are considered to be high scoring events. Tejaswin lost some crucial points on the first day and was back to the drawing board at the end of the day to calculate his scores.
He had scored a total of 4209 points (100m (812 points), Long Jump (886 points), Shot Put (670 points), High Jump (992 points), 400m (849 points)) at the end of day 1.
"I was disappointed as I had lost some points in my strong events. The events on Day 2 were not really my strong suit," Tejaswin explained.
With his back to the wall, Tejaswin drew energy from what he loves most about his new event. Buyoed by determination and support of fellow athletes, Tejaswin clawed back on the second day to reach the qualifying mark of 7500 points. He registered a personal best of 4m in Pole Vault and 52.32m in Javelin Throw to recover some points and breach the Asiad qualifying mark with a combined score of 7576 points.
"The second day was tough but I had my calculations in place. I needed some personal bests and I did achieve them," said Tejaswin.
Expressing his gratitude to the other athletes, Tejaswin said,"Everybody wanted me to qualify. During pole vault, national record holder Siva was constantly coaching me from the sidelines. His advice helped me to achieve a new personal best. Similarly in the most dreaded 1500m, one athlete kept running with me to ensure that I complete in the desired time."
With Asian Games in sight, Tejaswin wants to focus on Deacthlon before taking a call on his high jump career.
"Right now, I have my eyes set on both Asian Games and Asian Athletics Championships. I want to return to high jump once I am done here, but I guess that would be for one last time," concluded Tejaswin.
Tejaswin looks set to have one last chance to breach the 2.30m mark in high jump, the original aim of the transition, but one thing is for sure - he is getting more eyeballs on a niche sport like decathlon than it has ever got. If he manages to create history at the Asian Games, he could do for his new event what his old friend Neeraj Chopra did for javelin.